"And it's hard to explain how I feel
It won't go in words but I know that it's real
I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving to me" - Willie Nelson
Singlehood can involve some challenging terrain.
However you arrived there, by Fate or by choice, with regret or relief or grief, navigating your own starship according to your own stars can be likewise thrilling and completely defeating.
If you compound being single with single parenthood, you are likely to be a walking testimonial to Nietzsche's assertion that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I've given birth, raised offspring, buried a parent, lost loved ones and bounced from one life-altering event to the next almost entirely on my own. Plants and pets have survived in my care, people are fed, bills are paid, the car is occasionally vacuumed. I have lived by the motto that only one thing is going to kill me, and since I don’t know what that will be, everything until then is just one long drawn-out inconvenience.
The likely causes of all this singleness are complex, but suffice it to say that the result is about as of 2007, 96 million Americans over the age of 18 are single, dervishing around and frantically trying to be in all places at once doing all things. We are a busy demographic.
I owe my success as a single person, such as it is, not to any nobility in my character, but to both a practical streak and to loyal friends. I wake up every day wondering if there are any trolls blocking the bridge and if I'm going to be able to talk myself past them. Will this be the day that life just wipes me out? No. I think not. Maybe tomorrow, but not today.
As to my lifetime friends, well...I don’t know what they are getting out of the unspoken arrangement with me, but I try not to draw their attention to any inequities in our relationship. It's probably too late for them to reconsider, anyway.
Still, there are limits to anyone’s endurance, including mine. I've dabbled on every conceivable side of the relationship fence and know that there's always a trade-off in the dance between autonomy and compromise. While being partnered can drive an otherwise amiable person just barking mad, many aspects of human life favor working in tandem. Some activities do not lend themselves at all to being single. Backing up a trailer is one – you need a second person to stand behind and yell, "Turn the wheel to the right. No, the RIGHT! NOOOO...YOUR RIGHT!!!" before the rear wheel of the pop-up camper lands in the campfire pit anyway.
Disposing of dead animals is another. I had an implied agreement with my ex-husband that anything involving an expired animal was his responsibility, and I would take charge of all proximate animal excretory or injury events (throwing up, diarrhea, bleeding). It was a fair division of labor and we got along for years until the day the cat ate a bird and yakked it up on the dining room rug. We put a paper towel over the remains and argued for hours over who was in charge of clean-up. My argument was that the victim had been dead before it was digested and vomited. To my mind, this was a sort of bright-line case where Death by Cat was the proximate cause and was, therefore, not my problem. He argued that I couldn’t prove that the bird was not killed by digestion and that, in any event, what we had now was a mound of cat throw-up and not merely a dead bird.
I'm not sure we reached a satisfactory conclusion, but at least I had someone with whom to share the suffering. I missed him a few years later when, on my own, I followed a mysterious smell into my attic and found that a Norwegian roof rat had, somehow, managed to get baked onto the side of my hot water heater. Scraping a decomposing rat loose with a spatula in 105 degree heat is really an activity that should be shared with a partner, and I missed my ex a lot during the half hour it took me to squeegee the desiccated corpse into a bag and cart it away.
But any or all of the above undertaken as a solitary activity – towing, animal disposal, childbirth -are as milkweed in a stiff breeze compared to moving. Moving grinds single people into a powder of defeat and hopelessness. Moving requires two people - one to pack, one to plan. One to air up the tires on the hand cart and the other to flip the loaded hand cart off of the side of the porch. One to scout on ahead and set up the base camp; the other to roll in with the convoy. One to start the new job and drive the primary car to the new home, and the other to enroll the children in school, cut off/turn on the utilities, stop/start mail, get the anti-nausea medication for the dog from the vet, and get the household detritus on to the moving truck.
If you're single, you must be omnipresent. You start the new job and move some part of your household simultaneously or remotely. You rely on friends and people you will never meet to help pack, transport and store the weaving loom, the orbital sander, the beekeeping equipment, the congas, the claw-footed iron bathtub from your childhood home that you keep hauling around and in which you plan to be laid to rest. Things get scattered here and there - fostered in other homes until you are stable enough to reclaim your buffet and your mini-trampoline.
Thus, rounding out my third year (and second iteration) of life in Washington, I'm still moving. Some of the delay is financial. With fuel between $4 and $5 a gallon, the cost of a moving truck and a ferry ride, the financial reality of transporting my worldly goods 2500 miles makes me wince. Unless I suddenly get a four thousand dollar windfall, it's an expense that will have to wait until certain planets align and the kid's orthodontia is paid off.
Some of the delay is just spatial. Last year, I didn't even know where I could put my bigger treasures accept into a local storage facility. Space in my former apartment, then, was so limited that the dogs’ kennel doubled as the coffee table. Thankfully, I moved into a house over the summer, but it’s not Texas-sized and there will be a painful reckoning when the massive Lone Star furniture meets the modest Evergreen footprint.
And then (and I hate to admit it because some superior minimalist-type always pipes in, "well...just get rid of your stuff!") there's the truth that I haven't really needed anything in the gap that I haven't found at the Thrift House. Somehow, I have refurnished a house all over again without much more effort than attending a couple of garage sales, and either borrowing, adopting, fostering or buying everything from a couch and mattresses to camping gear and linens from the surplus of local friends.
I don't know what sort of cataclysmic upheaval will occur when the Austin stuff starts battling for turf and shelf-space with the Friday Harbor stuff. It won’t be pretty.
Also, as the months drift by, I remember fewer and fewer of my original possessions. I remember that I own a lot of tables (outdoor, accent, dining, folding and occasional) and a fancy sewing machine and a very robust blender. I vaguely remember a nice collection of cowboy boots and French copper pots. But while I can get along without much despair from being separated from my juicer, my heart longs to see my photographs, books, CDs and my stereo system before they disintegrate from age. I imagine that our eventual reunion will be joyful and there will be tears when I get to play my Troggs' recording of Wild Thing again.
Knowing of my yearning, my friend Amy was so kind as to send me a sampler last spring. She went to Blue Whale Moving in Austin, begged them to unseal my vault and release thirteen plastic containers of random stuff, which she shipped up to me. Some of it I was happy to see (my winter parka, for starters, and some family photos), while others things could have stayed put. But through her efforts, I was reunited with all seven (that's SEVEN) of my bathrobes, my velvet high school prom dress, some lingerie from at least 20-years-and-a-different-body ago and my Monastery Soups cookbook. If you come over for a bath and dinner, I can promise you will have your choice of both robes and soups. You’ll have to make your own arrangements for lingerie.
The move is inevitable, of course. I'm here and here is where I'm going to stay, so it's just a matter of time. The braces will be paid off in April and my friend, Fred, says he'd like nothing better than to drive a moving truck through New Mexico in the spring, since he's never been. I haven't told him yet, that he will have 13 hours of driving through West Texas before the Sangre de Christo Mountains of New Mexico are within sight distance. Until then, it's not a scenic drive unless you're a buzzard out for a joy ride and can appreciate the variety of road-kill.
Stay alert for the post-move garage sale.